Reeling in the years

John Pizzarelli keeps jazz moving on
By JIM MACNIE  |  February 25, 2010


Call John Pizzarelli a mensch — he's smart, chatty, and a hot ticket. Hell of a guitarist, too. Jazz fans already know that. Following in his esteemed dad Bucky's six-string footsteps, Pizzarelli is known for his dazzling dexterity — dude's got mucho chops. A couple of decades ago he added the designation "vocalist" to his resume, and his career made a mega-leap. These days Pizz is a high-vis showman, with a string of venues that stretches from European jazz festivals to New York's chi-chi Café Carlyle to a charming radio program he shares with his wife, the actress and singer Jessica Molaskey. Five bucks says you'll also recognize him from the ubiquitous commercial for Foxwoods, featuring "The Wonder of It All."

Pizzarelli's visit to the Rhode Island Center for Performing Arts (aka the refurbished Park Cinema) finds him celebrating Rockin' In Rhythm: A Tribute To Duke Ellington (Telarc). Like his previous nods to Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Joao Gilberto, and the Beatles, it's a sweet blend of swing and pop that illustrates just how versatile the maestro's songbook is. "C Jam Blues" features a four-man horn section (which will be with him in Cranston), "Love Scene" is a gleefully goofy tune the singer pocketed from Tony Bennett, and "Just Squeeze Me" is a solo guitar stroll through a timeless Duke ditty. Together, they're the bedrock of a rich program that even includes a mash-up of "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" and "Don't Get Around Much Any More." Who says jazz isn't keeping up with the times?

I GET A KICK OUT OF YOUR RADIO SHOW. WHAT'S THE IDEA BEHIND IT? It came from the between-song patter my wife and I have when we work together. They wanted us to bottle that. We decided to play records like we do in our house. It's usually stuff from what they call the Great American Songbook: Sinatra, Ella, Ellington, Nat Cole, as well as the people doing it today, like John Proulx, Tierney Sutton, Kurt Elling, Diana Krall. We wanted to put it in a package: "Hey, have you heard this one yet?" "Hey, I haven't heard that one in awhile." We're irreverent and informative, creating an atmosphere that's conducive to discovering what the music's about. I mean, people of a certain age might know this stuff only from the Rod Stewart records of standards and ask themselves, "What's the big deal?"

WHAT GENERATES THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN YOU AND JESSICA? WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF WORKING WITH YOUR SPOUSE? It's all pros, really. She knows lots of stuff I don't. She references theater, and I'll talk about Slam Stewart. We bring in the stuff that shapes us. She turned me on to the music from Floyd Collins, written by Adam Guettel, the grandson of Richard Rodgers. She said, "This is one of the finest works of music written today," and I shrugged and said, "Yeah, right." She was correct. I'm the stubborn Italian and she's the caring Irish person.

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  Topics: Music Features , Adam Guettel, Paul Hindemith, Tony Bennett,  More more >
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